Firefighter Occupational Cancer

By: Christopher Brennan


On July 31st, my friend and Brother Tony Volpe passed away from Colon Cancer.  While “the jury is still out” so to speak, I believe that Tony’s cancer was as a result of Occupational Exposure.  Firefighters have been regularly identified as having higher than the normal occurrences of cancer.

“Researchers found firefighters have a 100-percent higher risk of developing testicular cancer, a 50- percent higher risk for multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and for prostate cancer it’s a 28-percent increased risk, compared with nonfirefighters.”

This is something we have to take seriously.  For those Hazardous Materials trained responders out there you will note that Gasoline does not have a reported value for an Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health Exposure (IDLH).  In the NIOSH pocket guide all that is listed under IDLH for Gasoline is the letters CA, because it has been identified as a carcinogen.

The bulk of furnishings in the modern home are made with synthetic materials, materials most often derived from petroleum and its by-products.  Your table, couch, TV, phone, pillows, blankets are all essentially Gasoline in a solid state.  That is why modern fires burn roughly twice as hot as the fires that our Father’s generation had to fight.  We do not yet fully understand what the health impact of crawling into a superheated atmosphere filled with these carcinogens may be.

One thing must must do is ensure that our people are wearing their SCBA not just during suppression, but throughout overhaul as well.  The unburned products of combustion that we are breathing in are KILLING US.  Some additional measures you can take are to ensure that your turn-out gear is being washed to the manufactures recommendation and more importantly take a shower and change into clean clothes after every fire.
If you were exposed at a HazMat scene you would be showering and changing without being told.  We sometimes forget though the effect not cleaning up after a fire can have.  Your clothes have absorbed these vaporized carcinogens.  If you continue to wear them you are increasing the likelihood you will absorb the products though your skin.  By showering and changing you stop the exposure!

I’ve seen the face of Cancer, in co-workers, in my friend, and in my wife.  It is a terrible disease that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.  It is our responsibilities as Fire Service Warriors to recognize these hazards and do everything in our power to mitigate them and increase our chances of being a burden on the pension system!
The attached video is interesting.  It talks about the Firefighter Cancer Support Network and Occupational Cancer starting just before the 1:00 mark.  Please take the time to watch it.

Wear your BA, take a shower, and go home to your family.


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